On Sunday I had the humbling (and somewhat terrifying) experience of preaching at a Richmond Methodist church. The church was Bel Air United Methodist, an incredibly supportive partner of Shalom Farms over the past several years. Every August this church celebrates Creation Season, reflecting each Sunday on a different aspect of God’s creation and the call to stewardship. It was a real privilege to get to share many of the themes and ideas I have been reflecting on this summer with the beautiful and welcoming community at Bel Air. Below is my sermon on Genesis 1:1-25 and John 1: 1-14.
Today’s readings from Genesis and John are two of the most familiar passages of the Bible. They are our creation myth. They tell our story – the story of God’s relationship with God’s creation. This is a story we have heard more times than we can count. But it isn’t a story for the history books – over and done with, put on a shelf to gather dust. This is a story that is continually unfolding, made timeless in the realm of eternity, and made particular in our own lives by the reality of the incarnation. The same God who started it all in the beginning of creation is still creatively active in the world – and in each of us – today.
All throughout the creation narrative in Genesis 1 God reveals to us who He is through His action of creating. Again, perhaps we have heard this story so many times that we don’t notice the peculiar way God creates in the Genesis account. If we pay attention, we see that God literally speaks Creation into being. God said “let there be light,” and there was light; Godsaid “Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters,” and there was sky, and so on and so forth.
We know that words are powerful – they can hurt and heal, build up and bring down, tell a story, evoke a feeling, rouse us to action, preserve a history. Perhaps the best example of the power of word is poetry. Anyone who has ever been moved by a poem or a song – and I think that’s all of us – knows this. In poetry, words are used in their most efficient, concentrated, potent form. Robert Browning, a Victorian poet wrote, “God is the perfect poet, / Who in his person acts his own creations.” All of creation is God’s poem. God’s Word is so powerful, that it actually fashions and shapes reality. So when God says at the end of each day in the Creation Story that what he has made is “good,” we can trust his Word.
In the second reading today, from the Gospel of John, we learn more about this powerful Word of God. We learn that this awesome Word, the Word that was there in the beginning, the Word through which “Everythingcame into being,” the Word that is with God and is God, the Word that brings Life and Light, that very Word “became flesh and made his home among us.” God stepped into His poem. It’s as though God was so absolutely certain of the goodness of His creation that He made himself a part of it – a creature, fully human (yet still, mysteriously, fully God) – to speak to the world the truth of its identity. The incarnation is the ultimate affirmation of the goodness of creation. It is God reclaiming and reasserting that goodness.
We of course know that this goodness isn’t the whole story. Our passage from John also talks about darkness. We know the reality of that darkness – we know it in our own hearts and in our own lives; and we know it in the war and hunger, poverty and injustice, discrimination and exclusion, greed and exploitation that afflict every corner of Creation. But darkness, evil, sin – whatever we wish to name it – is not the final word in God’s poem. The final word is, of course, The Word. And that Word is light, and life, and love. “The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness doesn’t overcome it.”
John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” We see here that the world is good – not by its own merit, but purely by virtue of the fact that God loves it. This is the most fundamental truth of God’s creation – it is good because it is beloved. This is also the most fundamental truth of our identity. We see in our reading from John that when we welcome this truth, this light, this life, we find ourselves as God’s children.
As God’s children we can claim our special calling as creatures made in the image and likeness of God. We can, like God, affirm the goodness of God’s creation in ourselves, in one another, and in the world. We can, like God,love God’s creation in ourselves, in one another, and in the world. This is our calling. In Romans chapter 8, we read “the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed… in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” God names us His beloved children and calls us to participate in His divine will for all of His creation to know the freedom and glory for which it is created. God invites us into His poem that transforms darkness into light, death into life and continues to bless his Creation, calling it good and loving it into that reality.
In this way, our mission is the same as the mission of John the Baptist that we hear about in the second reading – “to testify concerning the light.” Our mission is to bear witness to the light, to echo the good Word. To let God’s great love poem to His creation be reflected in the living poetry of our own lives. To live in a way that honors the goodness of God’s creation. In the words of one of my heroes and a great lover of Creation, Wendell Berry, “to love all Creation in response to the Creator’s love for it.”
This is a tall order. But we can begin just by reading God’s poetry – by being attentive to God’s presence in and among us revealing His love for His creation. We can experience God’s loving presence when we come together in community to worship like this morning, or to share a meal. God may speak His poem to us in a still small voice when we sit in prayer. We may come to know the goodness of creation and Creator in the beauty of nature. There are infinite ways God can make Himself and His truth known to us if we pay attention. My work with Shalom Farms this summer introduced me to new ways of reading God’s poetry in the world, new ways of appreciating and praising His goodness in His creation. From the great generosity of people who have so little in the eyes of the world, to the downright miracle of compost that resurrects life and abundance out of death and decay, at every turn I have met God, alive and active in His good creation. Where does God greet you with the goodness of His creation? How does He tell you that you are His beloved? How is God speaking His poem to you in the day-to-day – at home, at work, at school, at church, in the garden, in relationships, in failures and weaknesses, in joys?
Even as we practice reading God’s poetry, we start to participate in it. We find that we are part of the poem – part of God’s plan for drawing all of His creation into the fullness of light and life and love. We find that we are called to grow our own hearts ever closer toward the heart of the Perfect Poet. We find that we are empowered by the Spirit to challenge anything that disgraces the goodness of creation – war and hunger, poverty and injustice, discrimination and exclusion, greed and exploitation – and usher in God’s Reign of peace, justice, generosity, abundance, and love. We hear God’s ancient blessing of goodness on creation resounding even now, conforming the world to that truth. And our lives start to ring along with all of Creation in praise to the Creator.